Achieving Long Term Sobriety-How to Beat Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

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Long term sobriety is the golden standard of success in beating alcoholism. There are plenty of people who drift in and out of recovery, only getting a small taste of a better life before slipping back into the grip of addiction.For the newcomer, the big question in early recovery becomes: “How can I make this last?” or “How can I turn recovery into a lifestyle?” These questions all point toward the same goal of achieving long term, meaningful sobriety.

Roller Coaster of Recovery
Photo by J. Reed

When I first got sober, I wanted to know what common factors there were among those who had achieved long term sobriety. I learned from others and from my own experience that the following factors are critical in the beginning:

1) Level of Surrender - Those who have truly “hit bottom” have a really good chance of achieving long term sobriety. Recognize though that it is not about how far you’ve fallen, but more about to what degree you have internalized a need for change. Regardless of your life circumstances, those who have admitted complete defeat against drugs and alcohol stand a much better chance of making it in the long run.

2) Strength of Commitment – Some people merely dabble in recovery, while others immerse themselves almost completely in a recovery program. Those who have long term sobriety in AA almost always talk of how heavily they were involved in their early years of recovery. This strength of commitment is simply the outward reflection of what is driving you on the inside towards a life of sobriety.

3) Willingness for Following Direction – Any recovery program is essentially a set of directions to help you live a sober life. Those who have achieved long term sobriety or overcome an addiction tend to emphasize that they were very willing to follow whatever direction was given to them when they first started their recovery. You will often hear people share in AA meetings how they were willing to do whatever was asked of them in order to stay sober. This speaks to a profound level of desperation being necessary to achieve recovery.

Even though these elements are critical to early recovery, they are not necessarily under our direct control. For example, I didn’t get to choose my level of surrender. It just happened. I was finally devastated and miserable enough with my drinking and drug use that I was willing to ask for help and try to change. This level of surrender directly affected the strength of my commitment and my willingness to follow directions.

If these factors are largely beyond our control, what can we do in order to ensure our long term success? Here are some things that have enabled myself and others to achieve significant lengths of recovery:

1) The Day at a Time Philosophy – Can anyone stay sober for a year at a time? Since we have a tendency to measure our lives out in days, it makes sense to develop a day-at-a-time philosophy for maintaining sobriety. Recovering alcoholics know that they never have to drink again….just for today. It can also be helpful to know that if we can just make it through today without drinking, then tomorrow will start us off fresh and likely take care of itself. But the real power of this philosophy is in the mindfulness of staying present in each moment. For an excellent exploration of the topic, I highly recommend reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now.”

Focusing on Recovery
Photo by Photo Monkey

2) Long Term Treatment – When I finally got clean and sober for good, it was through the help of a long term treatment center. I lived in one for a period of 20 months in my early recovery, and I’m confident that this was a critical component to my continued success in recovery. Long term treatment gave me the foundation that I needed in order to establish a strong recovery for myself. It was there that I learned how to live, and developed the lasting and healthy habits that carry me through recovery today.

3) Spiritual Experience – This is the absolute clincher. The spiritual experience is the whole key, the thing that all other suggestions point towards. This is because it is vital for maintaining long term sobriety. Behavioral approaches and cognitive therapies work great for treating “problem drinkers” or “drug abusers,” but for real alcoholics and drug addicts, a complete psychic change in personality is necessary to overcome their problem. This is not the same as religious conversion. The vital spiritual experience is characterized, among other things, by overcoming self-centeredness, and is maintained by working with others in recovery.

Profile of a Success Story: What Characteristics Lead to Long Term Sobriety

1) Balance – When I first got clean and sober, the treatment center I attended had a lecture about “living a balanced lifestyle.” I thought it was a waste of time, and didn’t see how it applied to my early recovery. In fact, I believe I was right–it didn’t apply. But it does now. As I continued to stay clean and started living a more “normal” life, the question of balance continues to be brought to my attention. Virtually any addict or alcoholic is in danger of unbalancing their life. For example, consider someone who loses themselves in their work and becomes a workaholic, only to later suffer the consequences of burnout and fatigue. Although it might not seem like it in early recovery, balance becomes a critical concept as you continue to stay sober.

Winding road of recovery
Photo by NYC Treeman

2) Willingness – Those who make it in the long term maintain their willingness. They stay open to the criticism of others, to trying new ideas, to conquering their fears. Continued willingness goes hand in hand with lifelong learning, and is critical for those who continue to push themselves to reach new goals.

3) Seeking - You are either growing spiritually or you are regressing. Standing still is an illusion when it comes to spiritual progress–if you think you’re stagnant, then you need to get moving. Those who enjoy long term sobriety are constantly pushing themselves to grow spiritually.

4) Network – No man is an island….you need the help of others in order to succeed in recovery. Making a strong network of people who can help you in your addiction treatment journey can be the difference between recovery and relapse. 12 step meetings, therapy, or counseling can all be tools to help form this support network.

There are many different options if you are seeking help for alcoholism or drug addiction.  An inpatient alcohol abuse treatment program can help or your loved one break the vicious cycle of alcoholism. With the right alcohol abuse treatment, long-term recovery is possible.


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  • Ha Gerie.

    This so great!!!! So true and helpful. It is great to read this and feel that it comes from some one who actually experienced addiction. As a family member of some one who is going through the difficulty of being an alcoholic but not really facing it, it is helpful to read this and hope for hope that my family member will also be able to reach a place where he will decide to get help.

  • Patrick

    Hi there, and thanks for your comment, Ha Gerie. There are several articles on this website that also deal with helping addicts and alcoholics, or simply how to live with them and still get along. You can check some of those out in the archives. Good luck to you and your struggling family member.

  • cori

    I am a recovering alcoholic too and read your article on long term success in wondering others thoughts. You are absolutely right on all you say. I have a nephew that has a ruff road ahead and I too can only speak of my experience, strengths and my relations spiritually in hope for him to seek the right help. Thankyou for sharing, Cori

  • Patrick

    Thanks for your comments, Cori. Good luck to your nephew, too….wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow impart the wisdom we have gained on them and somehow get them to listen, so that they might avoid many years of needless suffering? Of course, it takes what it takes….I wouldn’t have listened either when I was younger. I had to find out for myself.

    Good luck to both you and your nephew and God bless….

  • Annie

    Hi Patrick –
    Another great artical. I am still trying to hold onto hope for my friend, that he will take a good look “inward” and see that change will be a “good thing”. However, I tried to speak with him this past week and he hung up once he heard my voice. I was disappointed to say the least that this had happened and realize that there is nothing more I can do but to pray. I may never hear from him again, nor may I ever no what happens to him in his life. He is 55 yrs old and in my opinion ” slowly killing himself”. I know that he has somewhat of a realtionship with Jesus Christ, but I don’t think he is at the point where he knows that God loves him no matter what and that God will help him through this, if he should just take the first step in surrendering as you mentioned above. Again, I thank you for your site and the wisdom you are sharing with all of us. Be at peace and enjoy your weekend. Annie

  • Patrick

    Thank you for the kind words, Annie. Prayers for you and your friend, that he can “find the path.” God bless.

  • deepak

    i w+as an alcoholic for 14 yeras and now+ i am sober.Why?How?

  • Mike

    I’m one of the alcohilics that has an on again off again thing with recovery. I go sober for a few years at a time then I become a drunk for a few years.
    I guess it boils down to the idea of I don’t want to admit I’m powerless over this wonderful elixir that my german ancesters perfected and dispensed so freely.
    Please ask the higher power to help me.

  • Patrick

    Hang in there Mike. One day you might get it and things will click and you will want to find a path of growth for yourself that is truly long term….

  • Frank T.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I`ve been struggling with reservations in the back of my mind that down the road I would be able to use when life was “better” and I`m coming to realize through you guys with long term sobriety that know matter how long I have sober if I pick back up it will still hurt the heck out me like it has. I want get high on life forget chemical substance b.s.

  • kaman

    I have been reading much lately as I knew that I was rinking far too much far too many times but the thing is that I was a functioning alacholic. I have a great family, business and social circle of friends and always did a great deal of business in bars clubs ect.

    But my wife constantly pestered me that I drank too much and would one day like the author either kill myself or some one else drink driving, I didnt care much and would ignore her, I had also been stopped twice and was under the limit on both occasions so far so good, I was living the life of a real man enjoying the family and the rewards of business and thought I could get away with anything. But the guilt in the morning about what I may have said to loved ones was killing me. At first it was great waking up and looking in the mirror thinking I was ok and had got away with it again changed to looking at a shiny face that had the look of a guilty 47 year old who had been getting away with it has finally gotten to me.
    I have been sober for three days now. No treatment what so ever, it`s been easy up until the evenings when I would normally drink ( three pints Stella and two three whisky/vodka at home every evening and more at weekends for the twenty years).

    There have been times when I would not drink for two days every week and drink less but it has gradully built up over the years. The strang thing is I have only told my wife and son who both said to me ” you don`t have to stop, just drink less- this coming from some who is almost tea total and a 12 year old who has never had a drink. This how bad the problem is in our world, there a alot of poeple abusing drugs and alcahol.

    So it`s the morning of the forth day and as usual I have been surfing the net looking at the good/bad effects of alcahol when I came across this site and was compelled to share.

    So thnk you for the opportunity and I will try and come back and let you guys know how I get on but what I`m doing is to get the poison out of my body over the next few weeks so that I can go back into the gym.

    Effects so far are no guilt in the morning, no shiny face, more money in my wallet, calmer atmosphere at home with more family time, so in a nut shell apart from the cravings it`s great.
    I`m willing to go through this as I knew when I began it would not be easy but as with the rest of my life nothing worth having ever is but i`ve been stupid enough to apply this to the rest of my life but not this.

    Thank you and good look to you all..

  • Patrick

    Hi there Kaman

    Good luck to you on your journey. Yes please do let us know how you are progressing and if you are doing well. It sounds like you have a lot to live for. Good luck….

  • Glenn

    I Am 2 days sober, I am going to my first Dr. appt. tomorrow. I have Been in rehab countless times, 8 or 9 dui’s, near fatal car wrecks. Very tired of not knowing what I did or what I said to my wife & kids. Am finely ready to completely give up, I am an emotional mess, ashamed, & will not lose my family for alcohol. It has been going on for over 30 years, very seriously looking for help. Good luck to any who enters in the battle of booze, I have half heartedly tried a few times. suicide has now become an option.

  • Patrick

    Glenn, I have 2 bits of info for you regarding the idea that “suicide is now an option”:

    1) That is actually a good sign because it means you are at the point where you are willing to take real action and do whatever is necessary to change your life.

    2) However, please don’t take the easy way out with suicide. The world needs you more than that. Really it does. You may not believe that now, but you will if you stay sober for a year or two….

  • Karen

    I’m 9 weeks sober and struggling with whether to make this a permanent thing. After many years of trying to control my drinking, I now realize that I can’t control it. I’ve set many rules for myself about how often I will drink or how many drinks I will have only to break them again and again. But the idea of never drinking again seems terribly daunting. Right now I’m not drinking for 3 months because of some medication I’m taking that affects the liver. But after I’m done with the meds, I will have to face the choice of whether to try to make sobriety permanent. How will I explain it to friends and family? It’s humiliating and embarrasing to be the one who has “a problem.” I will feel judged and ashamed to tell people. I’m not one who blacks out or gets crazy when I drink. I rarely have more than 3-4 glasses of wine. But I get tipsy, say stupid things, embarras my son and myself. Worst of all, I don’t have control over the matter. I’d love to be able to have one glass of wine like my friends but then the cravings kick in.

  • Patrick

    Karen – keep going with your sobriety and just tell people that “you have a health condition” when they give you a funny look and you just turned down a drink.

    If you give it a year or so I know you will be happy that you stuck it out. Sobriety gives you so many gifts…..

  • James Kok

    How long must a person by dry to be able to claim he is now “dry’?? Two years? Three years? More?

  • Patrick

    Hi James

    Being “dry” is sort of a bad thing in recovery, because the term implies that you are simply abstaining from alcohol, but not “working a program.”

    The term has even evolved among those in 12 step fellowships to basically refer to anyone who as drifted away from meetings.

    If you have not had a drink all day today, then you’re “dry” by any standard of the measure….unless, maybe, you are still drunk from the night before.

    If your intention is to stay sober for the long run, then I would avoid the term “dry” and instead claim that you are “sober.” That implies that you are going to stick it out, in my opinion.

    I guess in the end it is all just words though, right? What is important is that you are making the changes you want to make with your life, and getting the results that you want.

  • CC

    Hey, I just came across your site and thought I would check it ut for a bit. I have been sober for over 7 years but one day at a time. I sometimes “forget” what it was like when I first started this awesome journey. Your site have reminded me that I really only have a daily reprieve from drinking. I needed to read how willing I was when I first got sober and how much pain I was in. When I got sober, I was COMPLETELY ready for a change and not just a change of bars or drunks. Thank God for this illness as it has been a big asset in my life. Good job on spreading the word!

  • CC

    hmmmmm, I guess I should have read that before posting…….looks like I can’t spell or know grammer. LOL

  • Zano

    Hi My name is Zano and I’m 23 years old. I know I have an alcohol problem because I change my pesronality whenever I drink and I hurt the people closest to me in the process. i have done very dangerous things while drunk including unprotected sex with complete strangers, however I am still HIV negative which is only grace considering the country where I come from. I have also been struggling with guilt and I fail at having secure relationships with the opposite sex beyond casual sex and this has proven disastrous for my confidence even though it appeases my vain ego. I certainly wish to stop drinking but fail because of a lack of support, due to the fact that incomplete promises even to myself have become my unfortunate way of life.

  • Shannon

    My name is shannon im a 21 year old addict, my sister is 27 and has lost custody to her son and was just arrested last night on some warrents she has been doing herion and roxys, but i rember when i was younger she use to drink 2 bottle of wine “pre gamming” when she would go out to the bar. i have started useing again i dont like to admit it because im so agenst the whole situation of impiaring yourself, i dont like what drugs makes people do, im doing my best to cope but its like everyone is venting and “dumping on me” and i have no one to talk to. im going to do the withdrawl as quitly as i can with out getting serious help because i dont have health coverage or anything like that and sometimes they treat drug addicts like horrable people from the places that ive been threw i have been hospitalised for drugs and depression. i know from the past that it will be okay and i will make it, its just hard when you feel like everythings comming down and your alone.

  • Patrick

    @ Shannon – you are not alone. Ask for help. There are many other people on the same path of recovery that you are on.

    Reach out and find them. Ask for help. You never have to be alone again….

  • Clint

    I’m a 23 year old male and during the week everthing is fine. I go to university but my marks are slipping because I can never seem that get that school work done on the weekend. That old demon alchohal leaves on a drunken bender the entire weekend and a couple days I slapped my best friend and scared his girl friend so bad, on her birthday no less that she pulled a knife on me. The worst part is my other friends had to tell me about it the next day because I couldn’t remember. I’ve just contacted the local AA office in my area, its time to fight and stop hiding behind excuses this can be controlled but accepting help is the first step I guess right? Wish me luck and thank you for letting me share.

  • Sad Lady

    I am 50 and at a place where i must stop drinking. i live alone, i had a boyfriend, but with all of the stress of my job and life, i medicate myself with wine and vodka. I was waking up in the middle of he night and screaming and yelling at my boyfriend and telling him to leave. Next morning i have no recollection of any of it and wonder why he is gone. I hate what i have become. Have a doctor appt next week to go and seek out some help.

  • civic

    im 36, have been drinking heavily for about 5 years, it started 7ish years ago, my son was born and my mother in law got cancer, my wife quite her job to take care of her mother, which after 2 years of treatment died, which put a large amount of stress on me… the way i dealt with it was to mix up a few drinks, i look at the web for long periods of time trying to find that magic trick to help me get past the cravings, but ive yet to find it….

  • elijah garcia

    My name is Elijah Garcia and I”m an alcoholic. July 1st I reached my two year of sobriety. I’m currently facilitating groups at my old treatment home i was at last year. I have found your website to be useful to me. I would appreciate some more hints on sobriety. Thank you.